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PSM or CSM?

Updated: Jan 5


Are you trying to decide between a Certified Scrum Master (CSM) or Professional Scrum Master (PSM) certification course? You’re not alone, it is a common question. This article focuses on demystifying the two most popular Scrum Master trainings in the world.


As one of less than 700 people in the world who has passed the Scrum.org PSM I, II and III (all with scores greater than 95), has a Scrum Alliance CSM and a CSP-SM, and a PMI-ACP, I feel like I am qualified to help you with this answer. By the way I also am a SAFe Program Consultant (SPC), and although I could teach the SAFe Scrum Master courses, I'll save that for another blog and focus in on the PSM and CSM.


Let's start with a history lesson. Ken Schwaber, the co-creator of Scrum, founded the Scrum Alliance in 2002 and created the first CSM course. Ken observed that the CSM didn’t actually mean a person was a skilled Scrum Master, so he formed Scrum.org and created the PSM in 2009, a more rigorous exam.


Here are some excerpts from Ken's blog, take a look at it here when you find the time: Building an Agile Organization Part 1 by Ken Schwaber.

  • In 2006, while I was at the Scrum Alliance, I received a call from an angry VP of software development. To quote, “I was looking for a Scrum Master to help me implement agile. I had several people apply. I selected the person certified by your organization as a Certified Scrum Master (CSM). The certification from an organization that you headed clearly differentiated him, so I hired him.”

  • The CSM Scrum certification had gotten out of hand. Organizations were expecting a certification to mean that a person was certified as being able to competently use Scrum to develop software. Instead they were getting people whose only uniform qualification was attending a class. Some were competent in Scrum software development because of their experience outside and prior to the class, but many were not.

Here is a side by side comparison I created for both certifications.


PSM vs CSM Comparison Matrix




What about the PMI ACP you may ask? The ACP is a fine exam, and the PMP folks ensure you have documented your Agile experience before you can sit for it. But think of it as a mile wide and an inch deep when it comes to Scrum, as it is not a robust Scrum Master test by any means. It still has merit though, as you need to be well rounded in the Agile frameworks, lean, adaptive planning, stakeholder management, continuous improvement, etc.


In closing, there's no doubt that there are many fabulous Scrum Alliance CSTs out there, and that you probably won't go wrong with their training. Yet in conclusion here are some final thoughts that set the PSM apart from the CSM when it comes to both training and certification:

  • The PSM will hold more credibility with employers, because it isn't easy to attain - you have to pass a much more rigorous exam with a much higher score.

  • Scrum.org is run by the co-creator of Scrum, Ken Schwaber. He also maintains the Scrum Guide. The organization is run by folks who eat, sleep and breathe Scrum and it shows in the carefully crafted curriculum and examinations.

  • Once you receive a Professional Scrum certification by passing the assessment, you keep that certification and remain listed on the Scrum.org website as being a Professional forever. You do not need to retest as you have already proved your knowledge, nor do you need to pay additional money to retain that certification.

  • Professional Scrum Trainers (PSTs) bring their own style and experiences with a consistent delivery of Scrum.org training around the world, so you know each course we teach is aligned with Scrum, and all of your teammates are learning from the same message.

  • Scrum.org's courseware is uniform and rigorously updated and fine-tuned to ensure every participant receives valuable and actionable training from Professional Scrum Trainers. To be clear, uniform doesn't mean boring! It means quality!

If I have convinced you to look at the PSM, consider one of my courses.


So what three letter credentials do you choose to list after your name? I look forward to your comments.


Scrum on!

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